Gone are the days of skating on cracked concrete in a rented grass seed warehouse in Millersburg with no bathrooms, insulation, heat or lights.
The mid-valley roller derby women of Sick Town Derby Dames and their junior league skaters, the Candy Stripers, no longer will be kicked out of their practice space at a moment’s notice in favor of higher-paying tenants.
Now, local skaters who compete in the alternative contact sport have a permanent home — and big plans for the future.
The new space is not just any building, but one specifically built and zoned for skating.
“It’s 5,500 square feet of delicious maple flooring that skates like butter,” said Kris McNyset, the head referee and leader of the committee that purchased the building. “It’s got bathrooms, heat in the winter — it’s kind of unbelievable.”
The overarching nonprofit of Sick Town Derby Dames, which is in the process of a name-change to Willamette Roller Derby (or WRD, pronounced “word”), plans to breathe new life into the 90-year-old skating rink north of Corvallis that has stood empty since January 2009.
About 30 of the tough, fishnet-wearing derby ladies — known by alter ego names such as PainCake, Stitches N Bones and Fisteria — met at the rink Monday evening for their first practice in the new digs. The former Roll-A-Way Skate rink will be bustling with activity every day into the foreseeable future, McNyset said.
In addition to the skating floor, the 6,400-square-foot building at 6400 N.W. Highway 99W includes a lobby, two bathrooms, a small office and areas formerly used for concessions and skate rentals.
Losing a less-than-ideal practice space
Sick Town Derby Dames became a roller derby league in September 2008 and formed a nonprofit a year later.
The organization grew to include two teams in its adult league of about 50 women, and a junior league of about 25 girls, ages 11-17, as well as referees and other volunteers.
For the past four years, skaters have practiced at a Millersburg warehouse complex, renting space at a reduced rate — and on the condition that they could be displaced with only five days’ notice by a higher-paying tenant. The skaters were usually homeless for 4-5 months a year during grass seed harvest.
“It was a good place for us to start,” McNyset said. “It’s big enough, and the owners had been great to cut us this deal for so many years, but it was not stable.”
The alternative was practicing outside. They skated anywhere with pavement or asphalt, said Katy Prudic, who heads training and was on the building purchase committee. But chalk lines would wash away in the rain, and the outdoor setting limited competitive training.
“You couldn’t really hit strong and hard because asphalt wasn’t your best friend,” she said, “and you couldn’t do as much strategy.”
The extra push to find an alternative to the warehouse complex came in June, when a tenant moved in with longer-term plans.
A rink without an owner
Coincidently, that same month the price of the roller rink property dropped to $65,000 — one-third of its original listing price.
Former Seattle securities broker Todd Hoss had acquired the property for more than $200,000 in June 2010, a year and a half after Roll-A-Way Skate closed down. In July 2011, Hoss was charged and later sentenced to prison for running a Ponzi scheme with his investors’ money.
Hoss’ assets were put up for sale to recover his investors’ losses. In September 2010, the property was listed for $195,000. This past February, the price fell to $85,000.
“That was still on the outside edge of what we thought we’d be able to afford,” McNyset said. “ … When the price of the rink dropped down to $65,000, that’s when it became clearly affordable for us to think about buying.”
Commercial property that close to Corvallis — a half-mile north of the intersection of Highway 99W and Lewisburg Road — is in high demand, but the building has a special zoning overlay that restricts its use to alcohol-free skating and dancing.
Developers were likely turned off by the idea of a long and expensive public hearing process of removing the overlay, McNyset said. Willamette Roller Derby, luckily, wanted the property for skating.
“It is perfect. Who else is going to take on that space?” McNyset said. “We need a home, we need a place, and there is a place that needs an owner.”
A colorful history
Erected in 1923, the building is the third-oldest roller rink in the Pacific Northwest, according to a Benton County historical resources survey.
Known for decades as the Lake Park Roller Rink, it served as a recreational spot for members of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and was reportedly open all hours of the night when Camp Adair was active in the 1940s.
Most long-time residents in the community have a story about the place.
“Pretty much everyone from the area that I’ve talked to has some connection to that rink,” McNyset said. “The plumber’s apprentice that came in during the inspection — he went to a dance there in middle school. Our real estate agent skated there in the '60s. A lot of people my age took their kids there to learn how to skate just this last time it was open.”
In fact, Sick Town Derby Dames had its start in that roller rink. Five women met there in June 2008 to talk about starting a derby league. Three months later, they were collecting dues and scheduling practices.
“We were born there, so we are returning to the place of our birth,” McNyset said.
Looking to the future
Willamette Roller Derby put down more than 20 percent of the cost of the property, which had a final sale price of $66,500. The organization plans to pay off the loan in three to four years through regular dues-paying members, its usual fundraisers and income from publicly-attended competitions.
Derby participants will kick-off a fundraising campaign at the beginning of the year to remodel and renovate the building. The plan is to replace the 90-year-old roof, McNyset said, and with permission from the county, to extend the building’s footprint by 15 feet in order to build a regulation-size track for scrimmages. In the future, they hope to get the building up to code in order to host small spectator-attended competitions, or bouts.
Having a legitimate and comfortable space — a recognizable building with a sign — could triple membership in the girls’ junior league and may allow for the addition of a men’s league, recreation league and a boys’ junior league.
“It’s amazing,” Prudic said. “To finally have a permanent place that you can hang your skates — it’s going to increase membership and promote a sense of community and a sense of belonging.”